The Typographer as Reader

The dimensions of graphic design – as a profession and as a field of study- are endlessly debatable, its boundaries notoriously fuzzy.
And the position of typography within graphic design education is even more fluid, subject to a wide range of preconceptions, orthodoxies and multiple interpretations.

Typography has in 20 years developed, socially and culturally, from being a very specialised body of knowledge to a democratised, public and domestic medium.

Patterns of technological change support the view that rather than being a sub-genre within graphic design, typography is the larger and more far reaching discipline, graphic design the specialism. Much typography exists outside of graphic design,
but there is very little graphic design that is independent of typography.

Typography is increasingly being practiced by non-designers, and decisions we would in the past have seen as the province of specialists are being applied by a whole spectrum of visual artists – as well as administrators, secretarial staff, schoolchildren.

It follows from these changes that we should ask new questions about typography in education, and question whether the precepts which have served in the past are still applicable.
What pedagogical model do we apply to the study of typography?
What methods are best suited to developing awareness as well as skill?

In order to answer this, we need first to look at the range of perceptions brought to the subject in the past.

In the mid sixties Emil Ruder said:

In 1972, Wolfgang Weingart listed these three elements as comprising the correct typography education:


So: in the altered conditions of the twenty-first century, we may need to step back from some of the assumptions we grew up with and ask again the question: what is typography? And how do we teach it?

Is it: an expressive medium, situated within the educational context of art and design?

Defined by abstract values: rhythm, tonality, form, dots and lines


Is it a pragmatic functional tool, to which one might apply the criteria and methodologies of engineering or industrial design?



Is it a medium of cultural interpretation, situated within the humanities?


Of course, it is all these things and more.

I’d suggest that the most useful insight into its current condition, and the contradictions which surround its relationship to the wider context of ‘Design’, may be found in the fact that graphic design is unique among art and design disciplines in its relationship to written language. Laurie Haycock Makela has said that


I’d identify this ‘separation’ as a defining characteristic, fundamental to defining the way forward for typography within design education.

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